Most Effective Methods to Control Fleas

A Multi-Faceted Approach to Flea Control

Dog scratching its ear with its hind leg.

More Than Words Photography by Alisa Brouwer / Moment / Getty Images

Fleas have a complex, four-stage life cycle. If you want to get rid of fleas and keep them from coming back, you have to address multiple stages of this cycle. Spraying once is not enough.

Warning

Be careful not to overdo flea control—too many toxic products in and around your pet can be harmful or even fatal.

Flea Control on Your Pet

Following package directions is essential when using over-the-counter products and medications. Only use products on the species for which they're intended. Cats are very sensitive to drugs and chemicals, so be sure to read all labels carefully. Don't use multiple products at the same time without consulting your veterinarian.

Even when following instructions on flea treatment labels, pets can have adverse reactions to flea products. Some over-the-counter products are not very safe at all. Check with your veterinarian to find out if the product is okay to use and call him or her immediately if you notice your pet behaving strangely or with any kind of skin irritation.

Flea Baths for Pets

A flea shampoo, or "flea bath," can be used on adult fleas for the pet that has large numbers of fleas visible on its body. Cats can be difficult to bathe. It is important to realize that a flea shampoo is not intended for lasting control.

Many people are surprised when they see fleas and it was "only a week ago" that the pet had a flea bath. Shampoos are only effective for a day or less and the fleas you see on your dog are only a small portion of the flea problem as immature fleas have already infested the home.

When to Use Flea Dips

Flea dips are strong chemical rinses to rid animals not only of fleas but mites and ticks as well. Dips are not usually recommended. Dips are very irritating to the skin and last approximately two weeks, and that's an awful lot of chemical residue to leave on an animal, so use with care, when other options haven't been effective. Flea shampoos and dips will treat for adult fleas.

Flea Collars and Powders

Flea collars work one of two ways: by emitting a toxic (to fleas, anyway) gas, or by being absorbed into the affected animal's subcutaneous fat layer. The toxic gas is usually only effective in the immediate area of the head and neck. The collars that absorb into the subcutaneous fat are much more effective. Flea collars are effective for adult fleas, but not very useful for the larva.

Flea powders and sprays offer short-term protection from fleas, and some products offer protection from ticks and mites as well. Most flea powders and sprays are only effective for adult fleas; some offer additional flea protection by inhibiting flea egg and larval development.

Spot-On Flea Treatments

Spot-on treatments are applied between the shoulder blades of the pet and typically last about one month. These treatments are effective for adult fleas, and some include ingredients to inhibit the larva from emerging from the flea egg, while others are active against larval development as well.

Oral Flea Treatments

Flea pills work by stopping the larva from emerging from the flea egg. There is a version available as an injectable medication for cats. Fleas ingest the blood of animals on these medications, and the female fleas then lay eggs that are unable to hatch. Many of these products also kill adults.

Consult your veterinarian whenever you're using more than one flea treatment at a time to ensure there are no adverse reactions when the medications are combined.

Flea Control for Your House and Yard

Only about 10 percent of the flea population (mainly the adults) are on your pet. The flea eggs, larva, pupa, and the few adults that reside in the carpeting, bedding, and living areas make up approximately 90 percent of the flea population. Neglecting this population of fleas will ensure that the flea problem will continue and worsen over time.

To control fleas in your house and yard, you'll need a coordinated attack. Here's what to include:

  • Regular vacuuming is crucial for overall flea eradication. This will pick up (and get rid of) adults, eggs, larva, and pupa before they develop. Putting a flea collar in the vacuum bag and emptying the bag frequently are also important; otherwise, the fleas will hatch, develop, and leave the vacuum to re-infest the living quarters. Dispose of the vacuum bag properly and frequently.
  • Wash all bedding, clothing, and removable furniture covers at least weekly.
  • Consider applying insecticide to your home and yard using non-toxic diatomaceous earth (DE), foggers and flea bombs, or treatments by a professional exterminator.

Warning

Follow all instructions on products such as foggers and flea bombs very carefully. Remove all pets and people as well as cover all food in the environment before applying insecticide.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.